The Boat With One Oar

By: Katie MacKenzie, Project Coordinator

A man in a small row boat once found himself caught up in a sudden storm. Waves were crashing. Wind was howling.  The boat was impossible to control. In all of the chaos, one of his two oars was tossed overboard, never to be seen again.

As the winds died down and the waves subsided, the poor man found himself stuck in the middle of the water. With only one oar and the shore far away, he assessed the situation and decided he needed to head back to dry land immediately.  Thus, he began to paddle. And paddle. And paddle. But, all he seemed to do was tire himself out – making no progress and getting nowhere close to the shoreline. How, after all of his paddling, was he still in the middle of the water?

Do you know what happens when you only have one oar and keep paddling on the same side? You end up going in a circle, making no forward progress, and definitely nowhere close to your end goal – the shore.

In my work here,  I have encountered individuals in client organizations who attempt to do the same thing again and again, month after month, and make little to no progress towards the end goals (although I guess that means job security for us as consultants!).  Whether it be unsuccessfully moving prospects through the pipeline towards a solicitation, closing a gift, making improvements internally to their development office, or progressing toward their campaign goal.

It is believed that Albert Einstein once said:  “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” How true this statement is when it comes to some of the clients with whom I work. Not surprisingly, your end result will continue to be the same if you don’t change anything you are doing and yet expect to see substantial progress without taking time to evaluate different strategies or methods to help you achieve your goals.

If you find yourself in this scenario – spinning your wheels and pouring endless amounts of time and energy into your work and yet, after all of your efforts, making no progress – STOP. Stop everything you are doing and re-evaluate. Take time to reflect and ask yourself some of the following questions:

  1. What am I trying to do? As it stands currently, why am I not able to do it?
  2. What do I spend most my time doing? Is that time spent efficiently and effectively, moving me towards my end goal?
  3. Do I need to be focusing my time and energy elsewhere?
  4. Am I stretched too thin? What might I be able to delegate to others so that I can focus on what is important in order to get the job done?
  5. What, specifically, is not working with my current system? Is it reporting? It is my method of approach? Is it my volunteer structure?
  6. Am I organized? Or is my lack of organization causing me to re-do work that has already been done? Can I be more organized?
  7. Are my priorities in order? How can I prioritize my “to-do” list to make sure that I am making progress towards my end goals?
  8. How can I make sure that I’m moving prospects through the donor life-cycle? Daily goals? Weekly goals? Monthly goals?
  9. What small “progress” goals can I set to make sure that things move forward, even if only incrementally?
  10. Where am I now, and where do I want to go?

There may be other questions you need to ask yourself depending on your particular organization’s specific challenges and struggles, but the aforementioned stem from some of the most common examples I’ve encountered with some of my clients when they are stuck in the never-ending cycle of no progress.

So, how do you make progress with only one oar? You have to step back, evaluate and switch your system and approach: rowing from side to side to make sure that you propel your boat forward rather than in a circle.  Happy rowing!